The Secret To Buying More Time

[Editors Note: This is the third post in a series by Debbie Stanley, owner of Thoughts In Order. Debbie has been helping chronically disorganized clients get their act together since 1997. Her latest book is The Organized Musician and she’ll be speaking on “Time Management for Musicians” at South By Southwest 2017.]

With my last two posts, we established that time management is every DIY musician’s most essential organizational skill. I gave you a method for differentiating your externally controlled time (things you must do) from your self-controlled time (those precious few hours that are actually yours to control), and I emphasized how essential it is to budget your time even more carefully than money, because there is absolutely no way to earn, borrow, or make more time.

You get the same 24 hours per day that everyone else gets, no matter how talented and deserving you are or how hard you work. Unlike money, with time you get what you get, period.

Except … there is one loophole.

You can’t actually receive more time for yourself. You’re still getting your 24 hours, no more and no less. But you can gain the use of more than your standard daily allotment. Let’s look at two ways to do it:

1. Delegation

Delegation is assigning a job to someone else. In theory, it sounds like a great solution: If you don’t have time to do a task or a job, delegate it and it will get done without your involvement.

The problem is that anything you delegate does still require some of your time. If a task will take 4 hours, you don’t regain 4 hours of your time by delegating it: Considering the time it takes to get the other person’s commitment, give him or her instructions on how to do it, respond to any questions, monitor to ensure you receive it by the due date, and confirm it was done correctly or well, you might only save yourself 2 hours. And if you end up having to redo it yourself, now that 4-hour task has cost you 6 hours.

So delegation can be a great help, but you must calculate correctly the time you’re actually saving, and you have to put safeties in place to prevent getting back a substandard result.

When the task is creative, like a show poster, in addition to communicating the details to be included and the due date, you also need to do your best to convey the look and feel you have in mind, then hope the artistic output will be something you like or can at least live with.

When the task is purely administrative, like running the merch table, detailed written instructions emailed in advance and also printed and kept with the merch supplies will save you in-person training time and head off many questions and mistakes.

Delegating an ongoing job will often pay off better than a single task because, once the person is up to speed on the requirements and skills of the job, the need for your supervision time is reduced. You still have to spot-check now and then, but when the delegee is skilled and motivated to do well for you, the time you save by handing over that job is close to 100%.

Jobs that are well-suited to delegation include merch management, upkeep of all of your show postings across various platforms, organization of your photos and videos, and updating of your EPK with new assets and media coverage. Highly skilled and trustworthy delegees can even manage your sync licensing catalog, social media, and booking.

But how do you get people to do that much work for you for little or no pay? This is where relationship equity comes in.

2. Relationship Equity

A second way of gaining the use of more than your standard hours is with relationship equity, a form of currency that everyone continually earns and spends. It can replace money, which is of course great for ramen-eating indie artists, but it can also replace time, which is just as valuable as money and sometimes more so.

Whenever you ask for a favor, you’re spending some of the relationship equity that you’ve built up with the person you’re asking. When you succeed in delegating jobs to volunteers, it’s certainly not for the fame and glory at this point: They do the work for you because you’ve banked relationship equity with them.

It gets really interesting when you think about what happens when you ask strangers for help. Why would they do anything for you? They don’t even know you. But if they know and like something about you, or if you’re connected by a mutual friend who has a lot of relationship equity with them, they’ll help you out.

If you’ve ever contributed to a stranger’s GoFundMe account shared by a good friend of yours, you’ve seen this in action. Same with fans who have never met you but like your music, so they chip in for your next album’s PledgeMusic campaign.

The true magic happens when your relationship equity is working for you and you don’t even know it. At that point, it’s not costing you any money or time, and in fact you wouldn’t be able to purchase it even if you did have those resources to spare. When fans bring their friends to your shows, when reviewers tell their readers to buy your album, when bookers tell other bookers that you’re a solid hire … all of those situations represent relationship equity.

In each case, you have impressed—and have not turned off—the people who are speaking up for you. At some point, you did something that made them willing to invest their own time and relationship equity on your behalf. I can’t overstate how valuable that is.

So how do you build relationship equity? In addition to creating great music, which will cause people to like you as a halo effect of liking your art, it’s things like engaging with fans after the show, liking and replying to their comments on your social media, helping other bands to get bookings, being courteous/on time/not a diva with your own bookings, responding to email and messages promptly, and, perhaps the biggest one, showing appreciation. Saying thank-you, genuinely and constantly, might be the single most valuable thing you can do to “buy” more time and, by extension, more opportunity.